What is an idol?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “idol” as “an object of extreme devotion” or “a representation or symbol of an object of worship”.
Typically, when we think of an idol, our minds go to a person that we admire (or idolize) or something we’re obsessed with. If we put on our Old Testament lens, we think of a statue or figure made by human hands that we bow before and worship.
Put simply, an idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life.
Whether we realise it or not, there are many things that can assume the idol position in our lives – our work, family, ministry, passions, hopes and dreams.
None of these things are bad – in fact, they’re inherently good – they’re only an issue when they become more important than God.
And the shift in priorities can happen ever so subtly over time.
No other gods
In Exodus 20, God gives His people Ten Commandments to guide how they are to live. The first commandment tells us that God expects us to worship Him and Him alone:
You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:3
Later in that chapter, God speaks to Moses about what He thinks of idols among His people:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.’” Exodus 20:22-23
If you’re a follower of Christ, you’re called to worship Him alone; no one and nothing else.
This is echoed in the New Testament, as Jesus counsels a rich young ruler. The rich young ruler approaches Jesus asking what he needs to do to inherit eternal life (in other words, to be a follower of Christ). Jesus lists a few of the commandments and the rich young ruler confirms he’s always obeyed them. What happens next reveals the one thing that keeps him from putting God first:
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matthew 19:21-22
Like the rich young ruler, God recently exposed the idols in my life. He highlighted that my desire for Him had been superseded by my desire for what He gives and provides. I began to desire the promise more than the Promiser, the provision more than the Provider.
He got me right where it hurts, but I’m glad He did.
Because it removed the very things that had stunted my level of intimacy with God. As soon as those things were brought into the light, I could deal with them and address how I came before my Heavenly Father. Not as a daughter who only wanted her Father to give good gifts but as a daughter who longed for her Father more than anyone or anything else.
It transformed my prayer life and brought me closer to God. And where there is greater intimacy, there’s greater trust.
Idols and trust
I was watching a mini sermon on the topic of idols the other day. It had somehow appeared in my YouTube feed not long after God spoke to me – I hadn’t even Googled it! Crazy, huh?
The person speaking shared that when God reveals to us the idols in our lives, it also reveals areas where we don’t trust Him. It’s as if you’re saying “God, I surrender my life to you but let me hold on to my [finances/business/relationship/health] because I think I can do those things on my own”.
I shift in my seat as I write this because I’ve subconsciously said this to God. And I had no idea this was what I was doing until I experienced a threat to my physical health.
It was that healing journey that exposed the idols in my life.
Before I became ill, I took pride in my independence, capacity, capability and earnings. Then I lost it all. That came with a flood of lessons learned, the greatest of which was the personal revelation that everything I need is found in Jesus. It was after I received (and lived out) that revelation that I regained what I had lost – in a new way, submitted to Christ.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
How to overcome idols and put God first
Many Christians know the scripture in Matthew that speaks of seeking God’s kingdom above all else and letting God take care of the rest:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33
For years, I believed I was living out this scripture, unaware of the things that stood in the way of it reigning true in my life. I now know that wasn’t the case and have taken the steps to correct it, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
So, what does it look like practically to overcome the idols that stop us from seeking first God’s kingdom?
Ask God to reveal any areas of your life that have taken His place
Repent and ask for His forgiveness (be specific and identify the idols by name)
Surrender the idols to God
Ask the Holy Spirit to warn you whenever you’re verging into the territory of allowing things to become idols
Regularly check in with God to purify your heart and motives
This isn’t a hard and fast process applicable to all circumstances. Like our relationship with God, the journey looks different for each of us. I’m simply sharing what the journey has looked like for me – maybe there’s a thing or two you can draw on for your own journey.
Has God revealed anything in your life that may be an idol? Or maybe some things have come to mind as you read this. If so, and you feel comfortable to share, please leave a comment to encourage others on their journey!